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5 PR Takeaways from “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”: a Documentary about Mr. Rogers

August 20, 2018 Leanna Bernhard

I recently attended a screening of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” Morgan Neville’s documentary about the storied life of Mr. Fred Rogers, the host of the wildly popular “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Many of us grew up with Mr. Rogers, watching his show with our siblings, cousins, friends or parents. It debuted in 1968 and ran until 2001 with a brief three-year hiatus from 1976 to 1979, spanning two generations of families.

A lot can be learned from Mr. Rogers’ life: how to treat others, how to tell a good story, how to stand up for what you believe in, how to accept others. But a lot can also be applied to our professional lives. Below are five PR takeaways from Mr. Rogers and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

Don’t Lose Your Childlike Creativity and Wonder

It’s so easy to become jaded in today’s world, with what seems to be a constant stream of national and international crises. Kids are forced to grow up too early and face adult situations, leaving behind their creativity and wonder. Those are keys to telling a good story and connecting with an audience. Hold on to them for as long as you can. Mr. Rogers was as creative as it gets, telling stories using puppets and connecting with children on a level that they could understand. It’s important to never be afraid of sharing that crazy creative idea that pops into your head during a client brainstorm. By sharing it, you never know what someone else could bring to it and the next thing you know, you’ve created a winning idea.

Be a Neighbor

Be A Neighbor: the entire premise behind “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Be a friend; help out others in need. At work, offer to help your coworkers if you’re having a slow day. Some may not ask for help, but when you offer, they’ll suddenly realize how much they need it. Consider the idea of volunteering for a local non-profit or small business in your free time and helping them with their PR needs. They’ll be grateful even if you just get one news hit about their upcoming fundraiser. 

A good story breaks through the clutter and grabs attention.

Know the Power of a Good Story

Mr. Rogers was an expert at storytelling and using analogies. In 1969, Mr. Rogers testified before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communications when PBS was in danger of losing its funding. The chairman of the subcommittee, John Pastore, was difficult to impress. Mr. Rogers explained the need for childhood educational programming by reciting the words to a song he had written about children learning to control their emotions, which started with a direct quote from a child: “What do you do with the mad that you feel?” Pastore was deeply moved, explained it was the first time in two days of testimonies that he had chills and then told Mr. Rogers, “Looks like you just earned the $20 million” in funding. Storytelling is also deeply important in public relations. A good story breaks through the clutter and grabs attention. PR professionals need to connect to their audiences and inspire them to take action, whether that be buying a client’s product/service or investing in a client’s business. 

It’s Never Too Late to Try Something New

In 1976, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was wildly successful, but Mr. Rogers found himself wanting to create programming for adults. He created “Old Friends…New Friends,” but he didn’t feel that he was connecting to adults in a meaningful way. Mr. Rogers returned to “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” but there’s something to be said for him trying something new when his original show was super popular. The same can be applied to PR. Don’t be afraid to implement a new idea, even if it wasn’t included in the original plan. It may work or it may not, but you won’t know if you don’t try.

Understand Your Audience

Mr. Rogers understood child psychology in a way that not many do. He approached topics like divorce, death and illness in creative ways using puppets and imagination to help them understand the world around them. He understood on an innate level what children would resonate with. A PR plan can’t be built without knowing the target audience and what triggers them to take action. Skipping this step will make all future work ineffective. When kicking off a new client or project, always be sure every member of the team understands the characteristics and demographics of the target audience.

At the end of the film, Mr. Rogers’ friends and family muse about what Mr. Rogers would say about the state of our country and world. They all agreed that he would be finding a way to bridge the gap and division we’re currently experiencing today. I think it’s safe to say the world would be a better place if Mr. Rogers was still in it, helping us navigate difficult topics and inspiring us to be the best versions of ourselves.

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